The year 2016 was a bit of a wild ride. There was a lot of pain and suffering in the world, but plenty of joy as well (if you knew where to look and you were very lucky). But for good or ill, 2016 caught us all off-guard. Things we never expected to happen unfolded in front of our eyes. Soccer was no different, and the Soccer Gods used this year to mess with our expectations. At least it wasn’t boring.
Here are some of the biggest surprises from the soccer world in 2016.
10. José Mourinho Takes Over At Manchester United
On its face this wasn’t that surprising— United were unhappy with Louis van Gaal, they wanted to become title contenders again without waiting for the next Class Of ‘92 to come good, and Mourinho was available. What was surprising were the implications for United’s club politics. Sir Alex Ferguson had opposed Mourinho as his successor, and instead hand-picked David Moyes and later backed Van Gaal even when things got tough. Mourinho’s hire suggests that Ferguson’s political clout with the club directors has taken a hit— and THAT was an interesting development.
9. Messi Retires From Argentina (And Then Un-Retires)
If Leo Messi stuck to his guns after his shock announcement following Argentina’s loss to Chile in the Copa América Centenario, this would’ve ranked higher on the list. Instead, the Say It Ain’t So crowd got to him and he un-retired in time for World Cup qualifiers. But don’t be too hard on him for changing his mind; he had a rough summer.
8. Wales At Euro 2016
Euro 2016 had many neat little surprises, and Wales overperforming was one of them. While you can’t really describe a team that has Gareth Bale in it as “scrappy,” the Welsh definitely exceeded expectations for one of their strongest tournament showings in decades. Hopefully they can ride this wave of confidence in their remaining WCQs and book a trip to Russia in 2018.
7. Seattle Rallies From A Bad Start To The Season To Win The MLS Cup
The Sounders were in the basement of the Western Conference in July and had fired Sigi Schmid—their first and up until then only head coach of the MLS Era—to try and salvage their dismal campaign. Six months later they were parading the MLS Cup through downtown Seattle. It was proof that, for better or worse, anyone can make it in Major League Soccer (unless you’re the Chicago Fire).
6. Upending The Established Order At Rio 2016
In terms of shock value, the USWNT failing to win a medal at the Olympics was definitely up there. The fallout from that performance will be felt in American WoSo for years to come. But let’s not overlook the achievements of those who went further— Germany winning the Gold, Pia Sundhage leading Sweden to the Final, and Canada winning a medal and giving Christine Sinclair a long, long overdue award for an astonishing record of service.